I have never run so fast in my life.
Jumping and ducking and turning and dodging, I am clinging on to Cassius' outstretched hand for dear life as he leads me through the dark forest of Neverland. I chance a look behind me, only to see a group of men running almost as quickly after us. From what little I can make, there seems to be three of them, and they all seem to be armed. I stumble and fall to one knee.
"Seriously?" Cassius asks incredulously. He wraps an arm around me and hauls me up only to push me forward once again.
"I thought..." I panted as we continued to run. "I thought you could fly."
Much to my surprise, Cassius laughs. A booming laugh that echoes through the trees around us. "That would come in handy, now, wouldn't it?" he doesn't sound out of breath in the least.
I have no chance to respond; a bullet rips its way through the trees toward us and whips past my head, the force throwing my hair in front of my face as it cracks through a tree. Cassius grabs me and turns me so that none of the bark hits my eyes, pushing me in another direction and grabbing my sweating hand.
My legs are beginning to burn and my chest feels as though it is on fire. It doesn't help that Alice had forced me into a frilly dress before this, now stained and muddy from running and falling. I grip tighter to Cassius' hand as he hauls me after him. "Cassius," I gasp, "I can't-"
"Too bad," Cassius snaps before knocking my legs out from under me a second later.
I would scream, but I am so surprised. I hit the ground hard and slide down a steep incline that we have come across. My hand is ripped from Cassius' and I scramble to grab onto something to slow my steady decline. Why had he thrown me down here? To kill me? I look for him, only to see nothing but the blur of greenery.
But then I hear Cassius curse under his breath and grab me roughly. I can already tell that I am going to be cut and bruised, which would worry me more except for the fact that I am already so wrapped up in the question of actually living through this.
We reach the bottom of the steep drop and I roll a few feet until I stop completely. I groan into the ground that I am lying face down on, the soft dirt pressing against my face. I feel even worse than when I was first dropped into Neverland- at least then I was drugged. Here, now, I feel every emotion, every heartbeat, every injury that covers me.
"They're still coming," Cassius says, crawling over to me. "Come on. Get up, Morg."
"Oh, no, I'm fine, don't worry," I mumble, lacing my tone with as sarcasm though it comes out raspy and weak. I help myself to my feet and turn to look at him. He looks... in his element. It is an odd thought, but one I can't help but think. His hair is windblown and his clothes are rumpled. The tops of his cheeks are a dark shade of red and his golden eyes are bright with adrenaline.
I hear the sounds of pursuit moments later: yells and branches cracking as they try and figure out how to best get a good shot at us.
"If we stand still for too long, their bullets will actually hit us," Cassius says as he grabs my arm and tugs me after him.
I am so terrified and worn out I feel like fainting, but I press on, although Cassius can tell immediately when I start to sway. "We're almost there," he says roughly. "And if you pass out on me, I swear I'm leaving you behind."
I want to ask where exactly we are headed, but can't find the breath to form words. Wow, I think, I am out of shape. I look down at the gold-colored dress that Alice had put me in and silently remind myself to yell at her about it later... when I get home... If I get home... from... wherever we are heading.
I hear Cassius breathe a sigh of relief. "We're here," he says, which are probably the single greatest two words I've heard leave his mouth since I've met him.
I am either so happy or so dizzy that I fall once more. This time, though, Cassius lets me. After a moment's pause, he looks down at me.
"You good?" he asks.
It takes me a few more moments to reply. "Yeah," I say, finally, "yeah."
"Try to land on your feet," he says, and scoots me with his foot forward, where I fall through a tarp trap covered in leaves.
I give an indignant shout and let out an awful oof! when I hit the ground-- not on my feet. Moments later, Cassius lands beside me-- on his feet-- and offers me a hand to help me up. The tarp trap closes seconds later, taking any semblance of light with it.
Darkness surrounds us, and I would probably try and say something rude if I weren't still so out of breath.
"They probably didn't see us go through here. But we should probably keep moving anyway."
"Whatever you say," I manage to get out, finally catching my breath.
I can feel him smile in the dark. "Here," he says, and I feel him take my hand. Now, out of all of the chaos and madness, I actually have the common sense to blush at the contact. I realize next that I am a muddy mess, and my dress must be torn up by now. He squeezes my hand as if to reassure me. "Sorry about that," he says finally.
"Yeah," is all I can say for a moment. We have started walking, and I still can't see anything ahead of me. "What was that, exactly?" I ask.
"An ambush," he replies. "I'm sorry you were dragged into it."
"Well, I think I would have been even more sorry if you hadn't have followed me out into the woods."
"This is very true," is all he has to say to that.
We lapse into a comfortable silence. From what I gather, we are in a tunnel of some sort. It is dark and dank and smells of earth. I try not to picture the walls closing in on me, keeping me trapped in the dark forever. Tree roots are hanging above me, brushing themselves through my hair, making me flinch every now and then. Cassius laughs when I trip over a rock and knock myself into him.
"Steady," he says.
I wish I could see his face. "Where are we going, exactly?" I finally ask. My voice feels louder than it should in the small space.
"A friend's," he says. "We'll stay there until I know things are okay, then we'll head back to the House."
I nod, but realize quickly that he can't see me. "Okay," I say.
"Morgan?" Cassius asks me.
"Yes?" I reply, cautious.
"Do you really not like Daphne that much?"
I expel a breath. "No, I don't think I hate her that much," I finally admit. "And I'm not jealous," I say quickly, interrupting whatever comment he is about to make.
He laughs quietly.
"Cassius?" I ask after a moment.
"Yes?" his voice is amused.
"Did you call me 'Morg'?" I ask. "When we were running, I mean."
He considered. "I don't remember."
"I think you did," I hedged.
"And what if I did?" he simply asks, seeming unfazed.
"I don't know," I merely say. I'd never been called that before, and I don't know how to feel about it. It sounds too much like "Morgue" for me to be completely comfortable with it. "Cassius?" I ask once more.
"Hmm?" he now sounds somewhat distant.
"Do you like Daphne?"
He stops walking so abruptly that I am afraid I've offended him somehow. I open my mouth to apologize, to take it back, but he opens his mouth before me. "We're here," he says.
"Got it," I say, wary as to what is on the other side of the wall.
"Please," he adds quietly, dropping his hand from mine, "don't get yourself killed after all of this. I'll have a lot of explaining to do."
Before I can retort, he pulls something invisible to me in the darkness and a bright light appears in front of me. It seems we've arrived.